His mother had raised him to appreciate the sky.
When he had been young, he remembered her taking him to the edge of the Mass where the muggy wind would brush his face as it peeled back the grey clouds and they could catch a glimpse of the murky blue. At night, if he was away from the hazy reflection of the city lights, he could even spot the moon, as dim as it was.
His mother always looked beautiful in those moments. When the clouds would break and a ray of silvery light would fall on her. Years of worry and bleary living would vanish for a split second before the clouds welled up again, hiding the moon from view and casting the world in darkness again.
When he grew up, his mother died and he looked up less, but the sky never left his mind. It couldn’t leave him. When the sky would appear again, he would always stare with mixed emotions of grief, and awe.
Later, in university, the Mass began calling for his attention too. Breath-taking pictures from his screen showed the mass before the garbage had clogged it up— when it used to be called the ‘ocean’. PixelatedPixilated pictures, far less detailed than those now, flashed him pictures of the old Mass with a large cerulean expanse hanging over it, dotted by fluffy, clean, clouds.
Organisms called trees, bushes, and flowers danced in his dreams. Mammals, long-extinct, were his friends as he rested.
But they always disappeared in the morning, when he had to leave his pictures and memories behind to pick his way through the rubble-ridden streets to work in his hover-pod. The magnetic belt in the road was hidden by years of garbage, though it was easily detectable by the constant hum as pods raced over it.
He sighed as he saw the remnants from products long forgotten flitter past his window as he neared the Work District.
His work wasn’t of the interesting variety: Reporting. Data, numbers, names, they ran on forever while he carefully typed them on a screen to be sent on to the neighboring department, then to the next, then the next, until they were of no use or given to the Head of the company in which he worked.
Twelve reports a day were his average, slow compared to the newest Droid the company had hired. The Droid should have worried him, but at this point, he figured a change of career would do him some good.
Not that there were many options.
He sighed at his desk and glanced at the wall where flashing numbers counted down the hours of light left.
His chest tightened when he saw that he was barely through half of his shift. Pain flared behind his sternum. He felt around his desk, grasping the mask that had been built into the plastic structure and put it on, breathing deeply. The sterilized air refreshed him for a moment before shutting off. Each desk only got a certain amount each shift, to preserve the dwindling reserves.
Pulling the mask off with a snap! He threw it down again. He tookagain he took a deep, thick breaththick, breath and returned to his task.
The numbers ticked past.
Finally, the lights blinked, shutting off as the workers filed out. Their department was one of the many that had to work around the power cuts, the number multiplying after the power plant exploded only a decade ago.
A decade? He shuddered. How had so much time passed with so little thought? He joined the crowd shuffling towards the pod-park and found his nestled between two rather large and sleek Elevate Pods. Their owners cast him derogatory glances as they boarded, smirking before racing away into the sky.
He scowled and slid into his seat, jamming the start button as the windshield pulled up his messages from the day. He coughed violently, still managing to read them before they vanished again. A compartment in the dashboard beeped and opened. A thin arm protruded, a vial clasped in its metal hand. He took it, popping off the lid and swallowing the contents quickly. His thirst disappeared, satisfied for the day until his next ration would be given.
Shaking his growing drowsiness off, he pulled up his coordinate for his apartment and sat back as the pod began its course.
As he raced through the streets, he stared at the clouds above. Their inky gray masses were untouched by the clutter of the surface. He briefly wondered how they felt. Soft? Wet? Natural Sciences had been his favorite in his young school days, though after fifth year they ceased to offer them as classes, insisting chemistry and physics were more useful.
The pod made a sharp turn, running along a concrete cliff that jutted over the ocean. A panel on his windshield appeared with a character holding a Fun-Fact card. It informed him that this area had once been made of ‘old rock’ that man had ingeniously replaced with more sturdy concrete as it began to erode.
He sighed and dismissed it.
Closing his eyes, trying to picture what ‘old rock’ might’ve looked like.
The roar of the Transport Pod reached his ears a second too late.
His eyes snapped open as it swayed off the magnetic track and— BANG.
A moment of pain. He shuddered, then stilled.
The effects of gravity faded then returned as he lay on something soft and slightly damp. He opened his eyes and winced. The air was bright. Bright and blue. He sat up and looked around.
His eyes stung, blurring the beautiful scene.
He lay in a bed of flowers. The myriad of colors bright and full of life. Fat, striped, insects hummed through the air, landing on one flower for a moment before traveling to another. One landed on his arm, peering curiously at him with glittering oval eyes.
He swallowed hard, his face twitched. Then something happened that he hadn’t experienced in a long time.
The insect took off again bobbing up and down in the air across a huge field. Mountains decorated the horizon. Pure, white clouds caressed the sky.
The sky. His heart leaped. He stood shakily, feeling an unfamiliar strength in his legs and arms, and stared up. A bright source of light bearing down on him but it didn’t overwhelm him anymore.
He laughed, spreading his arms out.
Man had not touched this place and it was beautiful.
A warm breeze brushed his face, tousling his hair. He felt a presence behind him but didn’t turn.
“Eddie?” A familiar voice called. He stilled and whipped around so fast he nearly fell over.
There, standing in the tree line of a huge forest was a face he thought he’d never see again. A face clear of the welts that had signaled her demise. Free of the lines and dark circles that had accompanied her age. A face that had comforted him, kissed his forehead, beamed with pride over him.
“Momma. ” His voice cracked.
She held her arms out and he ran to her, faster than he’d ever been able to run before, and melted into her familiar embrace.
They cried and laughed, rocking back and forth in one another’s arms.
He was home. He was finally, finally, home.